Sunday, 4 December 2016

How to help to save public libraries – David Thorpe

I know that we are hearing a lot about library closures due to council cutbacks, especially following a day of action to highlight this by unions on 5 November.

But, you know, it would help if people paid their library fines. Apparently, over £347,000 is owed in library fines across Wales. Researchers found:
  • The largest amount is in Rhondda Cynon Taf, where £67,679 is owed from the last three years.
  • Second is Swansea, where borrowers owe £66,381.
  • Cardiff library users owe £38,304 and
  • In Newport the sum is £31,748.
Hmm. Now where is that library book I was supposed to return?

Whichever way you look at it that's an awful lot of books that haven't been returned as well as money owed.

Several councils didn't even reply to the researchers' question, leading them to assume that the overall amount in Wales of unpaid library fines might be as high as half a million pounds, enough to build a new library or two perhaps.

That's why it is refreshing that Carmarthenshire Council (£4,320 unpaid in 2015) where I live is still supporting its libraries.

Recently it has held a series of Christmas book fairs in various libraries such as Llanelli, Carmarthen and Ammanford. Authors were invited to present their books and give readings. Here is Angela Fish, who not so long ago gave up her day job as a lecturer to become a children's writer:
 Angela Fish
 Angela Fish with her books about Ben in the Spider Gate.

And Bryce Thomas with his young adult books:

Bryce Thomas
Bryce Thomas
But again, you know, turnout wasn't brilliant. Was this down to lack of publicity or lack of public enthusiasm?

Basically, it's use it or lose it, people.

Libraries in Carmarthenshire do try. They also celebrated Children in Need day and have been making the most of the fact that it has been the year of Roald Dahl's birth centenary, putting on a series of events for schoolchildren.

Roald Dahl day for  schools in Llanelli library

Roald Dahl day for  schools in Llanelli library

And during Halloween Fun Week children at Llanelli Library took part in a Treasure Hunt. Everyone took home a fridge magnet and bookmark and went into a prize draw to win goody bags. There was a Story Time and a Halloween craft session.

 Halloween day in Llanelli library

I thought I'd look for some other good library news just to test whether the picture is all bad. In the past few months:
  1. A housing association and construction firm have joined forces to come to the rescue of a much-loved community library building.
  2. Friends of Llanfairfechan Community Library (FLCL) managed to get hold of a £30,000 Community Facilities Grant from the Welsh Government to do up their library which despite being one of the smallest libraries in Conwy had one of the highest children’s summer challenge readerships. Colwyn Bay-based Brenig Construction is carrying out the work free of charge.
  3. In the Rhondda valley another library is being renovated: Tonypandy, which is undergoing a total refurbishment financed by the council to the tune of £60,000 – which is less than those unpaid library fines! Let's hope all the new users of this library take their books back or pay their fines. 
  4. And Ebbw Vale the library not far away has already had an extensive refurbishment and now offers improved disabled access, a re-designed IT suite and a new community room. You can get free Wi-Fi. And it hasn't lost any of its traditional features.

Ebbw Vale  renovated library

So, with some councils trying their damnedest to keep open the libraries they have, if people want to keep their local library open shouldn't they cease grumbling and use them? And pay their fines!

[David Thorpe is the writer of Marvel's  Captain Britain, the sci-fi YA novels  HybridsDoc Chaos: The Chernobyl Effect and the cli-fi fantasy  Stormteller.]


Emma Barnes said...

Ahem - I'll admit to running up the odd fine...

However - it's getting ever easier to end up with whopping fines. There used to be no fines on children's books - now there are. Library hours are constantly reduced - so the library may be shut when you go to return your books. Many branches have been closed, so you have to travel further to return your books, and if you've forgotten one or two...

I fear that many people are ending up with fines they cannot afford, and so no longer using libraries, while those who can afford to pay wonder if it wouldn't just be cheaper and more convenient to buy the books cheaply online or use something like kindle unlimited instead. In short, I think libraries services should reconsider their fines policies because they may be having the unwanted effect of driving down the number of library users.

Right, off to check my fines now...

Penny Dolan said...

Nice to hear all your good library news, David.

Being able to renew library books online is such a benefit! I like being able to check the titles of books I've got out as well which reminds me to look for that title that may have slipped under the bed.

Once, some years ago - and not in Wales - I took back a stack of long-overdue library books, and tried feeling smug (instead of guilty at the amount) because my fines money would go into the libraries pot. That I didn't mind. However, the librarian told me that the library fines cash went into the general county council pot which made me less happy. I suppose it helps in a very roundabout way, but with all the funding cuts, I am not highly convinced.

Excuse me. Oh dear. Must go and check how long I've got left on the current books . . .